Most of us associate the problem of pollution with global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer. In practice, however, researchers point out that people may be the most vulnerable to the worrying environmental situation.
Suspended particles were discovered in the brainstem of young people and were immediately associated with molecular damage related to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, reports Guardian. If the discovery is confirmed, it will have a global effect, as 90% of people breathe polluted air.
Predictably, scientists are quite cautious about the new findings and avoid generalizing them, but the alarm has been sounded. In their view, nanoparticles are most likely a consequence of injury, but significantly more testing is needed to see if they can cause the disease in the long run.
Statistically, there has long been evidence that high exposure to polluted air increases the likelihood of neurodegenerative diseases. The current discovery is that a physical mechanism has just been identified to damage neuronal cells.
To draw this conclusion, the researchers found nanoparticles in abundance in the brainstem of 186 young people in Mexico City who died suddenly between the ages of 11 months and 27 years. Most likely, those particles reached the brain after being inhaled.
Problematic nanoparticles have been closely linked to aberrant proteins, one of the hallmarks of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Because the test was conducted on a large scale, the researchers wanted to mention that the same proteins were not found in the brains of people of the same age who lived in areas with a low degree of pollution.
“It’s terrifying because, even in infants, there is neuropathology in the brainstem,” said Prof. Barbara Maher of the University of Lancaster, UK, who was part of the research team. “We can’t prove the causality yet, but how can you expect these metal-containing nanoparticles to stay inert and harmless inside the brain? (…) It appears that those nanoparticles fire the bullets that cause the observed neurodegenerative lesions ”.
At present, the causes of neurodegenerative disease are complex and not fully understood. “There will certainly be genetic factors and it is very likely that there will be other neurotoxic substances,” Maher said. “But the special aspect of air pollution is the way people are exposed to it. I don’t think human systems have developed defense mechanisms to protect themselves from nanoparticles, “she concluded.